Since I am in the unenviable position of writing this column before the results of the Iowa caucuses are in and before the president's State of the Union address, I've decided to turn my focus to the South, where political pundits will soon be turning their attention. Since the subject of race inevitably will come up, let's review a little background.
Last year, InsiderAdvantage surveyed several Southern states and found that both white and African American respondents said the media makes too much of the issue of race relations. A good illustration of their views could be found in Atlanta last week, where President George W. Bush laid a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King.
A crowd of protesters jeered the president. Much of the media made it appear that they numbered "well over a thousand." Not reported was that this protest formed around a small group of veteran social activists who were holding their own meeting nearby. Their get-together was inconvenienced by the security measures taken to accommodate Bush.
With incomplete media coverage like this, it's little wonder people like Howard Dean believe the modern South is made up of nothing but oppressed African Americans and white good ol' boys racing their pickup trucks decorated with Confederate flags. Similarly, one might suspect Southern African American leaders, including the King family, would have no connection with Republicans or other conservatives. But they do.
As someone who grew up in Atlanta while Dr. King was alive, I have gone beyond witnessing the transformation called the New South to the point where I now take it for granted. Most of us here are so busy working and otherwise living our lives that we don't mark in our minds the race of our associates and companions. Likewise, as long as I've known them, I don't think either Martin Jr. or Dexter King have ever given a second thought to my political views or my skin color, nor have I to theirs. Instead, we work on projects or seek to help one another out of sense of friendship and community.
As I view the mass-media version of race relations in the United States, I see a perpetuation of the notion that racial unrest -- perhaps violence -- is always just beneath the surface. Perhaps the deep divide in opinion over high-profile trials such as Michael Jackson's and Kobe Bryant's might fuel such happenings down the road. But, for now, those feelings are mostly absent in this, the nation's region with the highest concentration of African Americans.